Aaron Judge

A Deep Dive into the Perspective of a Baseball Phenom

Reading Time: 8 Minutes

What to Expect:

  • What makes Judge a great leader

  • The pre-game routine he uses to build confidence

  • How his off-season routine helps him get better each year

Over the past several years, Aaron Judge has had a meteoric rise in professional baseball, playing one of the most coveted roles on one of the most historic teams: captain of the New York Yankees. Judge attributes a good deal of his success to his mental mastery, the resilience he needed to overcome slumps, and the way mental preparation allows him to approach his performance at the plate.

His performance has made him an integral part of an entire franchise's success - a franchise that has higher expectations than most. This role comes with increased pressure from media and fans and more scathing criticisms when it isn't going well. To successfully navigate any high-performance context like that, the best athletes are going to need a robust set of mental skills.

Judge also recognizes his mindset as a competitive advantage.

This is all a tool that I use. Look around -- everyone in the league has a bat. Everyone goes to the cage, does drills. Everyone. But somebody that doesn't use this, doesn't use these techniques or doesn't have somebody they can talk to -- I think I've got an edge on them.

Aaron Judge

Here's a look at the mindset skills Judge is cultivating to help himself rise to and stay at the top.


Any good performance starts with how you get ready. There's no one-size-fits-all approach to take, but there are consistent elements in readiness you need to address.

The first learning from Judge's routine is to keep it simple. Given the volume of games a baseball player has, a simpler routine makes sense. He relies on "feeling his body" and working on something simple to get started. 

His drills are about "feel."

What do I need to work on today to get me right. Feel where my body is, where my swing is, where my bat was at last night, what am I feeling right now.

Aaron Judge

He takes himself through the same standard drills based on this feel: T work, side toss, front toss, and hang drill. How much and how often is based on the night before, what his body feels like today, and what he needs to get into the right mindset for the game.

The advantage of a simple routine like this is its easy to execute anywhere and it creates a sense of calm, regardless of what happened the night before. Too many people swing from one side of the pendulum to the other, chasing optimal performance after a bad night or taking it easy after a grate one. With Judge's approach, there's no need to get too high or too low.

He goes into each game just right.


Like many big-time athletes, Judge's main obstacle to his own career progression has been injuries and staying healthy. Anyone who's been part of a sports team and been injured knows that during those periods of recovery, your level of resilience can make the biggest difference in how you return to play and the way you manage while you're away.

For Judge, what seemed to help him get through are a good sense of perspective and a clear set of goals he's working toward consistently. He also doesn't take his time in baseball for granted, which facilitates the right work ethic when he's working to come back to the game.

That’s the beauty of baseball; you always have a game the next day that you can rebound from and answer back from. I have always tried to have a positive mindset and not feel like anything is a given.”

Aaron Judge

If you're making a comeback of any kind or turning a performance around, maintaining perspective and a positive outlook (meaning optimistic about the future) are essential ingredients. You need to believe things will get better to stick around long enough to make it so. 

This outlook led to persistence with his rehab and a renewed commitment to the sport. 

Resilience is also a major factor in a sport so concerned with failure. Though every major sport has a high-failure rate (as do most businesses), baseball's failures are much more public and generally of higher consequence than a single missed shot in basketball, for example. You get fewer opportunities and they aren't all created equal.

Aaron's approach is to try and "learn from it and then move on," as quickly as possible. He talks (as do many great athletes when talking about mistakes) about having a short memory and consistently "starting at zero." Each time he strikes out or grounds out, he resets and heads back to the dugout having let go of the performance and refocused on his next task at hand.

This resetting and refocusing is the hallmark of resilience. Ultimately, the thing most likely to kill your performance isn't the mistake itself, but the subsequent lack of focus and internal distractions that come with playing those mistakes over and over again in your mind.

Scientists believe this is the brain's way of trying to solve the problem - it feels like you're working on it and getting better when you're lost in your head thinking about the problem. But it's a real detriment to performance to not be present. The fastest way to rebound is to absorb yourself in the game again as quickly as possible.

The best performers learn to let mistakes go and deal with them when the time is right - after the game.

Judge has also developed a simple reset and refocus routine to help him move on quickly after a mistake. He swipes some dirt from the ground while at the plate, squeezes it in his hand, and then throws it away. This simple routine redirects his attention from the mistakes, adds a physical cue as a sign to let go and move on, and then physically involves letting go of the mistake helps him move through a seamless process of releasing, resetting, and refocusing.

Gratitude and Growth Mindset

I just realize how blessed I am to be in this position. Very few people get the chance to play in the Majors, and far fewer get a chance to wear the pinstripes and play for the New York Yankees. So any time I get the chance to come to the ballpark and be around my teammates, which include MVPs and Cy Young Award winners, it really is a blessing. I have realized that every day that I’m at the ballpark, regardless of how things go in the game, I’m lucky to be able to do this. You have to even appreciate the days we lose because you learn from those experiences; you learn how to move on and grow from it so that you can win the next game.

Aaron Judge

A lot of pro athletes talk about how much of a blessing it is to be performing at the highest level. This attitude helps them to not take it for granted and to enjoy the process more than those who feel it's a right to be there (that mindset will get you replaced quickly).

What's special about Judge's mindset is his combining of gratitude with a growth mindset. He's learned to appreciate the full spectrum of the game's experience, not just winning, though of course he cares about winning too. In a game marked by failure, it's critical to find the joy and reward in what you go through every day. 

Gratitude also helps to create a generally more positive outlook on life. In a game marked by failure, it would be easy for any competitive person to get frustrated, down on themselves, or to lose confidence. Gratitude creates a sturdier baseline which makes these failures (slightly) more tolerable. No great athlete wants to fail more than they succeed, but it's an inevitability in baseball. Dealing with it effectively is the key to sticking around.

In terms of growth mindset, Judge is very clear about his focus on incremental improvement each day and each season. After his breakout year, his coaches joked with him about simply "running that back". Judge chuckled at the suggestion, before ultimately pushing his coaches to give him something to work on.

This approach has also led to him squeezing out every bit of development from every bit of his game. He recognizes that this methodical approach to growth is the one likely to help him develop into the best baseball player he can be and is also the most likely to help him win a championship.

When he talked to teammates about his successful 60+ homerun season, he acknowledged it was his best hitting season ever but not his best-ever season.


I found some record of a tool Judge uses to build confidence that I've also used with elite athletes.

Before he heads out to the field, he watches videos that are a composite of a bunch of his successes - good swings, good defense, or great plays. There are images of him rounding the bases and occasionally features other GOATS like MJ.

Aaron uses this video to "switch" into somebody else when he enters the field. He said that he needs this switch to manage the fear he feels of juggling the expectations he has on a nightly basis.

This switch is about being more confident. It's about recognizing his elite edge, that he knows what he can do. It's this confidence that let him ultimately bet on himself, turning down a massive extension (7-year, $213.5m). A year later, his confidence led to an even bigger payday: 9 years, $360m.

Self-Regulated Learning

“I knew what I had to do that winter,” Judge said, calling in from Dunedin, Fla., during the Yankees’ mid-April series against the Toronto Blue Jays. “I came to Spring Training in 2017 completely prepared for what was in store. I felt like if I put in the work, both physically and from the standpoint of learning what pitchers were going to do to try to get me out, I would be able to make a big improvement.”

Aaron Judge

This quote was about the winter 2016, when he watched every single one of his at-bats from the previous year to learn how to better compete against pitchers.

That is self-regulated learning.

Judge has had periods in his career where pitchers seem to get the best of him. "There have been times when it has seemed that American League pitchers have known exactly how to get him out," wrote Alfred Santasiere. To get ahead of this in future seasons, Judge put himself through an extensive review process, making adjustments to his approach each day after watching the tape.

This kind of reflection and iteration is the cornerstone of self-regulated learning and a big part of what Judge believes led to his repeated success at the plate. Though he's had some slumps, he consistently returns to a high level and a feared opponent when he steps in the batter's box. 

When you look at the stats, you see the 52 homers and 114 RBIs, but it was a grind. I was fine-tuning things every day, always going back into the lab to try to figure out what I could do to get back on the bump. I had hot stretches and times where I was cold. That season was a constant battle and constant grind, and that makes me proud that I was able to do some good things.

This type of learning is so important because it helps build his mental model of performance - in this case, at-bats. The brain is a predictive machine, and those predictions are based on the richness and quality of the mental model. The more he refines it through learning and reflection, the better his performance can be.

This is particularly true for situations where speed and accuracy of decision-making matter, like trying to hit a ball that your eyes can't consciously process.

Developing the skill to hit like Judge requires a bunch of actual reps, but it's strengthened by the review of those reps and the reflective process. Reflection is key to deeper learning.

For Judge, this reflection involved (and still involves) a near-daily review of past performances. He uses those past performances as data for every part of his game, from how he prepares the following day (that's partly how he determines "feel" above) to how he adjusts his swing in the off-season. That level of learning makes for more significant progress each off-season.

The result is a complex, intricate mental model of his swing, each pitcher, the game, and what he needs to execute at the highest level.


In past editions of the newsletter, we haven't taken much of a look at leadership - the natural extension of what it means to be a high-performer over time, especially in sports. Though not all high performers can be great leaders, the reality is that, in most professions, if you're performing well both the higher-ups and your peers will look to you for advice and guidance.

Aaron Judge is no different.

In learning about his leadership, it's notable how clear it was that his leadership talent was developed, not something he was born with.

From a young age, my parents taught me to have respect for the game and for my teammates,” he said. “It’s not all about you, whether you’re having a good day or a bad day. When I got to college, having a chance to play for Mike Batesole, who just won his 600th game, was so important for me. He instilled that it’s about the team first. It’s about putting the other guys in the lineup ahead of yourself. He instilled that every day. If we used the words ‘me,’ ‘my’ or ‘I’ in our postgame interviews, we got fined. That made us be cautious about talking about ourselves because baseball is a team game. If I hit a walk-off home run, it’s still about what the pitcher did to keep us in the game, or the double play that our infielders made in the sixth inning to help win the game. That’s something I will never forget or lose sight of.

Aaron Judge

There are countless stories of Judge's leadership, ranging from the way he greets new teammates being brought into the organization to the way he picks up balls during batting practice for teammates. Judge's leadership is marked by commitment, kindness, and gratitude.

Like any high-level athlete, the way he earned his way into the leadership role was first through consistent performance on the field. As he delivered great work, his teammates started to look up to him and respect the way he approached the game. That ultimately led to him assuming the captaincy.

But what helped his teammates buy-in was the way he approached their development as a leader. Judge's leadership isn't about being the loudest guy in the clubhouse - the way we typically think of leaders in sports, and what I often have coaches tell me they want in a leader.

Instead, his leadership is about getting the best out of everyone.

He’s definitely a guy who wants to maximize everyone’s potential and always wants to push you. Anybody that is willing to push someone else to do better is someone you want in your corner.”

Aaron Hicks

That might seem like an obvious quality of a leader, but my experience both with sports and businesses suggests that's not actually how leaders are identified. Leaders are typically just the people with the most to say or the most confidence in how they say it. Or they perform well on the court, and as a result, are designated as the leader of the team. Only after those factors do people start to think more critically about whether or not the leader is raising the game of everyone else around them.

Putting a high performer in a leadership position - if they have the right interpersonal skills, like Judge - can make a huge difference. Research suggests being near a high performer can raise other people's performance by 15%, and being closer to a lower performer can damage performance by up to 30%. You need your high-performing, skilled captain to be around everyone to leverage the "spillover effect."

Judge makes sure everyone is around him. He's credited with organizing players-only meetings, team dinners, helping the young guys adjust to the big leagues, and keeping the ship steady when things are going well (or not so well). He takes the time to thank the chefs every day who prepare food for the team and makes every player feel like they are the same.

If you want to be a great leader or develop great leaders on your team, aiming for the way Judge's teammates talk about his influence is a good bar to go after.


And a special shoutout to Chad Bohling, a friend and Yankees mental conditioning coach, who helped Judge develop many of these skills and routines.

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